Updated Nov 26, 2023
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Shrimp cocktail is a timeless holiday appetizer! Chilled jumbo shrimp (that get a fresh squeeze of lemon) are dipped in a zesty, bright red cocktail sauce – now what’s more festive than that?
Shrimp Cocktail is a Classic Holiday Appetizer
Sure, it’s easy to purchase a pre-made platter of shrimp cocktail from the market. But this homemade version tastes ah-mazing, and it’s really easy to make! It’s a simple process of poaching shrimp, mixing up my extra tasty version of shrimp cocktail sauce, and arranging everything on a platter to serve.
Homemade shrimp cocktail tastes much fresher than store-bought versions. And bonus – it can be made a day in advance, which is what we all like to hear to reduce stress while planning a Thanksgiving menu or Christmas dinner. So do yourself a favor, and make this shrimp cocktail recipe during the holiday season. It’ll make you look like one heck of a chef, and it’s guaranteed to be a hit!
Shrimp Cocktail ingredients
The shrimp itself doesn’t need much, unless you make a poaching liquid with extra flavor boosters such as garlic, peppercorns, or herbs. Then, you simply have to mix up a quick cocktail sauce! Here’s what’s in it.
- Jumbo Shrimp: Since this is a shrimp-heavy appetizer, I always prefer to buy fresh, raw shrimp the morning the day before from my local fish monger. But don’t worry you can also use frozen! See my tips in the next section below.
- Lemons: You’ll need a few lemons, all which will be used in different ways (i.e. for the poaching liquid, cocktail sauce, and serving).
- Ketchup: Use your favorite ketchup brand here since this is the base of the cocktail sauce.
- Prepared Horseradish: Make sure to grab prepared horseradish versus horseradish sauce. There’s a difference!
- Worcestershire Sauce: Just 2 teaspoons are needed for a hint of umami flavor. If you’re gluten-free (as I am) make sure to double-check the ingredient list!
- Hot Sauce: For a spicy kick, I like to use Tabasco. But you can use any hot sauce!
Find the printable recipe with measurements below.
Fresh versus Frozen Shrimp
Both fresh and frozen jumbo shrimp work great in this recipe. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when shopping for either one.
- Fresh shrimp: If you’re buying fresh shrimp in a coastal area, make sure to ask your fishmonger where it’s coming from. You don’t want fish that’s been sitting out on ice for a long time, or if it’s been previously frozen and then thawed. It’s gotta be “fresh” catches of the day!
- Frozen shrimp: For convenience, especially if you don’t live near the coast, grab a bag of frozen shrimp! Any jumbo shrimp will work. Just make sure the bag states that the shrimp is deveined and tails are removed. I also recommend buying wild-caught.
How To Make Shrimp Cocktail
The only cooking you’ll need to do is poaching the shrimp. And that only takes 3 minutes! So make sure to set your timer to prevent the shrimp from overcooking.
After that, all that’s left to do is to stir together the sauce in a separate bowl and arrange everything on a platter. Pretty simple for a fancy appetizer eh?
Poach the shrimp. Fill a large pot with water and salt. Squeeze the juice of one lemon and add the lemon halves into the water. For additional poaching liquid ideas – see the note below! Bring the poaching liquid to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer. Add the shrimp and let them poach for 2 ½ to 3 minutes, or until they’re pink and firm.
Poaching liquid tips: The base of the poaching liquid should always have some salt and lemon. But if you want to add a bit more flavor to the shrimp, you can also toss in whole garlic cloves, sliced ginger pieces, halved onions, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and fresh herb.
Drain and chill the shrimp. Drain the shrimp in a colander and let them cool for a few minutes, until they’re not steaming anymore. Then place them in the fridge to cool completely.
Make the cocktail sauce. In a small bowl, mix together the ketchup, prepared horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce.
Serve on a platter. Serve the shrimp over ice on a large platter, along with the cocktail sauce and extra lemon wedges. Or, you can serve the sauce in a smaller glass with shrimp hanging off the edges!
Storage and Make-Ahead Tips
- To store: Any leftover shrimp or cocktail sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
- To make-ahead: Yep, you can make this entire recipe a day in advance! Just store the shrimp and cocktail sauce in the fridge in separate containers. Then, assemble everything on a platter with ice right before serving!
More Party Appetizers
Appetizers can honestly be the highlight of a holiday dinner party. So don’t skimp out and make any of these favorites below. They’ll get your guests excited for what’s to come the rest of the meal!
- Deviled Eggs – Make this classic version or bacon deviled eggs.
- Pomegranate Guacamole – It’s my classic guacamole with a festive twist.
- Smoked Salmon Cheeseball – My mom’s cheeseball recipe is always a hit.
- Prosciutto Wrapped Sweet Potatoes – These sweet and savory bites always disappear fast.
There’s always a place for a shrimp cocktail platter during the holidays. If you give it a try, let me know how it turned out in a comment below. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 lemon, halved
- Optional: flavor-boosters for poaching liquid, such as garlic, ginger, onion, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and fresh herbs.
- 2 pounds jumbo shrimp, (tail-on and deveined)
- extra lemon wedges for serving
- Poach the shrimp. Fill a large pot with water and salt. Squeeze the juice of one lemon and add the lemon halves into the water. Optional: add aromatics to the poaching liquid (see ideas above). Bring the poaching liquid to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer. Add the shrimp and let them poach for 2 ½ to 3 minutes, or until they're pink and firm.
- Drain and chill the shrimp. Drain the shrimp in a colander, let cool for a few minutes, then place in the fridge to cool completely.
- Make the cocktail sauce. In a small bowl, mix together the ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce.
- Serve on a platter. Serve the shrimp over ice on a large platter, along with the cocktail sauce and extra lemon wedges.
- For many shrimp recipes you typically cool the shrimp quickly in an ice water bath. But if you do that for this recipe you’ll remove much of the extra flavor from the poaching liquid. So just drain and then chill!
- If you’re serving this up in individual glasses, you’ll likely need to double or triple the cocktail sauce recipe, as the individual glasses need a bit more sauce to look full.
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